In 1967, Lynn White published a highly influential article, "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis," in the journal Science. His article was based on the premise that all forms of life modify their context, and suggested that what people do abou ...
In 1967, Lynn White published a highly influential article, "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis," in the journal Science. His article was based on the premise that all forms of life modify their context, and suggested that what people do about nature depends on what they think about themselves in relation to their ecologic environment. Moreover, he conjectured that Christian Middle Ages were the historical roots of contemporary ecologic crisis.
White's new idea set off an extended debate about the role of religion in the destructive attitude conducting to the exploitation of the nature. Many saw his argument as a direct attack on Christianity, and some theologians think his analysis of the Bible, expecially Genesis is misguided. It also gained interest in the relationship between man, nature and religious ideas, thus simulating new fields of study like environmental ethics and eco-theology.
In this paper, I review White's academic works, including Medieval Technology and Social Change, to appreciate his attitude toward Christianity and to reappraise his controversial thesis. White's main area of research is the medieval technology, and his inquiry is continuously focused to the role of the religion in the development of technology. He believes that the Middle Ages were the decisive periods acquiring the leadership of the western technology over the world, and that the activist or voluntarist character of Latin Christianity provided the psychic foundations of technological inventiveness. In short, before and after 1967's article, he consistently insisted on the constructive role of Christian faith to the technology.
In his "Lynn White's Medieval Technology and Social Change After Thirty Years," Bert Hall explains "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis," signalled a turn away from White's earlier more optimistic vision of technology as an outcome of Christian humanitarianism. But I am not content to that explanation. White's insistence that values derived from religious beliefs are central to the shape and direction of western technology does not change.
Borrowing Norman Cantor's terminology, White was an "outrider," whose works seemed too bold, problematic and extreme to become part of the main stream. In the panoply of 20th century's medievalists, White becomes an "outrider" consciously. Lamenting our ecologic crisis, he remains a churchman trying to find an alternative remedy which must be essentially Christian world-view. It was sufficient for him, to have instilled some new ideas, or to have aroused dormant thoughts. His 1967's article is included in these categories as much as his famous book, Medieval Technology and Social Change is.